If you’re like many Americans, your job requires spending the majority of your day parked behind a desk. You’ve likely heard that this is bad for your health, leading to a host of health issues and even a shorter life expectancy.
Extended time sitting behind a desk is also bad for your back. Not only does gravity take an incredible toll, but lack of movement causes your hip muscles tighten. This means that, when you do finally leave your desk, your spine works harder to make up for these tight hip muscles. The result? Back pain.
Stand Up for Your Back
The best thing you can do for your back is get up off your rear. This doesn’t mean head to the gym (yes, you need regular exercise, but that isn’t the beginning and end of what you need to do). What it does mean and is that you need regular movement throughout your day, not just your daily sojourn to the gym or lunch hour walk.
Regular movement throughout your day is the most important thing you can do to ward off those health risks. In case you didn’t click on that link, the risks of a sedentary job include increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, numerous types of cancer, obesity, and yes, death. Regular movement also works those hip muscles, taking some of the strain off of your spine.
How often is “regular” movement? At a bare minimum, you need to move around hourly, and twice an hour is ideal. This doesn’t have to be a full exercise routine. Walk up and down a flight of stair
s two or three times, do a lap around the cube farm, or perform some squats or lunges right at your desk. Just a few minutes of movement twice per hour helps alleviate many of these potential health and back issues.
Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk
If a stroll around the office attracts unwanted attention, or you’re just looking to mix things up, there are some exercises and stretches you can do right at your desk.
Start with a couple of stretches. Loosen your neck by touching your ear to your shoulder and then holding it there for a count of five. Alternate shoulders and repeat until you feel loose. Stretch your chest by extending your arms over your head and behind your back, as though you were trying to grab something stuck between your shoulder blades.
You can also stretch your back by placing your hands on your hips and slowly bending backward. If you have access to a doorway (not always readily available if you work in a cube farm), place your hands on either side of the doorframe. If you move forward slowly, you’ll feel a nice stretch in your chest.
Simple Flexibility Exercises
Following are five simple exercises to improve back health and flexibility. Some of these may be done in the office during your periodic breaks. Others you may feel unable to do at the office, unless you have access to an unused conference room
- Lunge with Rotation: Stand with feet together then lunge forward with your left foot and place both hands around your left foot. Do not allow your knee to extend beyond your toes. Extend your left arm as though reaching for the ceiling, turning your torso to look upward as well. Exhale slowly, allowing your body to move more deeply into the rotation. Rise to a standing position again and repeat with your right leg.
- Number 4 Sit: In a seated position, cross your left ankle over your right thigh. With your left hand, apply very slight pressure to your left inside knee. Next, lean forward slightly until you feel soft stretching on your rear. Inhale, holding the position. On your exhale, apply a tiny bit more pressure, leaning forward another half-inch. Repeat five times, continuing this sequence with each breath. Then, switch to your right side and repeat.
- Reach for the Sky: Stand upright, legs set slightly wider than your hips. With palms facing forward, fully extend your arms above your head. Now, spread your fingers and stand on your tiptoes. You should feel the stretch from ankles to knees to hips to chest to shoulders.
- Shoulder Opener: Stand straight, holding a towel or belt behind your back, one end in each hand. Slowly raise your arms, pulling your shoulders back and together, and stopping just at the level of discomfort.
- Supported Backbend: Stand about 1′ away from the wall, facing the room. Lift your arms over your head and place your palms against the wall. Lean back slowly, supporting your weight with your hands. Now, slowly “walk” your hands down the wall until you feel the stretch. If you need to, take a step or two away from the wall to allow room for your backbend.
4 Signs Your Back Pain is Caused by Poor Ergonomics
It’s important to note that you can typically identify back pain caused by poor posture and ergonomics at your desk job. Signs your back pain is due to poor ergonomics:
1. The pain is worse after a long day in your office chair, but doesn’t typically bother you during the weekend
2. The pain begins in your neck and then radiates down through the upper and lower back and extremities
3. The pain goes away once you move or change position
4. The pain suddenly occurs after a change in job or office chair
Posture and Ergonomics for a Healthy Back
In addition to regular movements and exercises to strengthen your back, implementing ergonomic practices helps improve your posture and alleviate back pain.
It starts with keeping your body aligned. When you’re standing, this is an even weight distribution to your feet. In a seated position, sit upright, creating a vertical line from your ears to your shoulders to your hips. As discomfort sets in (as it will even with perfect posture), alternate to the front or back of your chair. Even with periodically alternating your position, you need to stand and move around for two to three minutes every half-hour.
Create an ergonomic workstation. If your office supports it, request a chair with adjustable back support or invest in a lumbar support pillow (or both). A footrest also helps remove some of the strain on your back. Finally, adjust your chair height and monitor height. Your chair height should allow you to rest your feet flat on the floor, with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Your monitor height should place the top third of the screen above eye level, which prevents hunching.
With proper ergonomics and regular movement, you’ll help protect your back and improve your overall health.